My Finger Lakes travel experience was sponsored by Finger Lakes Wine Country and its partners. All opinions are 100% my own. Click here for full disclosure statement.
As a lifelong Midwesterner, I grew up listening to others talk about spending time “at the lake”. Friends’ families had cottages on lakes in Wisconsin and Michigan. They would spend weekends and summers swimming, fishing, and boating. To this city girl, time at the lake sounded like heaven. My family did not have a lake house but I often dreamed of one. (And, Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, I am in no way complaining about not having a lake house. You made up for it by taking us on month-long trips and hockey-tournament weekends.)
Then last year, as an adult with children of my own, I paid my first visit to the Finger Lakes Region of New York. I immediately fell in love with the area, for it caused me to think back on my childhood dreams of spending time “at the lake”. And there isn’t just one lake in the Finger Lakes (duh, plural); there are ELEVEN. Each of the lakes is special in its own way. Moreover, the immediate area surrounding each of the lakes offers a variety of things to do for families. While many of the activities are seasonal, the list of things to do in the Finger Lakes with kids is still impressive.
With 11 lakes, you kind of HAVE to get out on the water! Seneca Lake is the largest of the 11 Finger Lakes and offers a number of water-based activities. Schooner Excursions runs day sails on the historic Schooner True Love and the experience is quite delightful. Another option is a guided, sightseeing cruise on Captain Bill’s Stroller IV. This protected mahogany vessel would be better for families with young children as it provides shelter from direct sunlight and other unfavorable weather conditions. Find both boats and others at the pier at Seneca Harbor Park in Watkins Glen.
Finger Lakes National Forest also covers a portion of the region and provides miles of trails. An excellent way to enjoy the natural beauty of the area is on horseback. Reserve a trail ride with Erika of Painted Bar Stables and you will not be disappointed! Her extremely thorough pre-ride orientation session is both educational and highly entertaining. Erika may come off as the Queen of Sarcasm but don’t let it throw you off. She knows her stuff and tells it like it is. She’s also great fun and loves her horses as if they were her children. Most importantly, Erika will ensure that you and your children are safe and having the best time ever.
The glacial activity that created the Finger Lakes millions of years ago also cut out dramatically beautiful gorges, valleys, and waterfalls. The most popular hiking trail in the region is the Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park – and for good reason. It’s stunning. The trail is a bit moderate and suitable for older children. Strollers definitely are not an option on the trail. A shorter and almost equally beautiful trail is at Havana Glen Park. Hike to the waterfall and, if it’s warm enough, take a dip in the natural pool at the bottom. It’s an inviting and scenic little swimming hole. Another option, for families a bit more hardcore about hiking, is the Finger Lakes Trail System. There are more than 1,000 miles of trails within the system, including spur, loop, and branch trails from the main Finger Lakes Trail.
I’ve mentioned that each of the 11 Finger Lakes has its own “personality”. This holds true when talking about the types of fish species present in each lake, too. With varying sizes and depths, some of the lakes are home to only cold-water fish; some have only warm-water species; the deeper lakes are home to both. Some of the fish species living in the different Finger Lakes include northern pike, walleye, brown trout, small- and large-mouth bass, yellow perch, landlocked salmon, and many more. (This excellent article breaks down the habitat and inhabitants of each of the lakes.) Unless you’re a seasoned angler and very familiar with the lakes and different species, your best bet is to hire a fishing guide or to go out on a chartered fishing boat. Here is an extensive list of fishing charters, guides, and marinas, broken down lake by lake.
If you’re like me, you prefer to provide a bit of educational experience for your kids during your travels. Moreover, no matter how hard we try, we just cannot control the weather. Need something to do on a rainy day? The many museums of the Finger Lakes have us covered. Here are a few of my favorites:
Glenn H. Curtiss Museum (Hammondsport). Glenn H. Curtiss is known as Hammondsport’s favorite son, though I had no idea who he was before arriving at his museum. I did learn that Curtiss was a pioneer aviator but, before that, he built bicycles and motorcycles. And, in 1907, Curtiss became known as “the fastest man on Earth” when he rode one of his motorcycles up to a speed of 136.4 MPH! The fascinating story, including his association with the Wright Brothers, is outlined throughout the museum amidst antique and vintage bicycles, motorcycles, and aircraft.
National Soaring Museum (Elmira). The museum’s mission is to preserve and present the history and heritage of motorless flight and is one of only two museums of its kind in the U.S. The museum’s location, on Harris Hill in Elmira, is also significant. Harris Hill has been the site of soaring contests and exhibitions since the 1930s. And during World War II, Elmira was the chosen location for developing a glider program and training military pilots. Today, visitors can marvel at the collections of flightless aircraft on display at the National Soaring Museum, some of which date back to 1890! Don’t worry if you know nothing about soaring; I didn’t know a thing and still found the museum fascinating. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even go on a glider ride!
Corning Museum of Glass (Corning). Without question, one of the absolute coolest museums I have ever visited! It’s equal parts science museum, history museum, and art museum. Round it out with an opportunity to make your own glass and its high coolness quotient is solidified. The museum’s galleries contain approximately 50,000 objects representing more than 3,500 years of history. There’s also the Innovation Center, where visitors learn about the science and technology behind glass through hands-on exhibits. Visitors can make advance reservations to make their own glass. Prefer to just observe? Then take in one of the daily glass-making demonstrations. Lastly, as the name suggests, expect to find plenty of displays of – you guessed it – CorningWare (and Pyrex).
Something else that surprised me about the Finger Lakes Region is its connection to Mark Twain. I’ve read Twain’s classics and once visited his boyhood home of Hannibal, Missouri. But I had no idea he had spent so much time in Elmira. In fact, Twain spent upwards of 20 summers in Elmira, even penning classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in his octagonal study overlooking the Chemung River. His study has since been moved to the campus of Elmira College which is also home to the Mark Twain Exhibit (inside Cowles Hall). For a full experience, take part in one of the Trolley Into Twain Country Tours. These seasonal tours cover the significant Twain sites, as well as provide a better look at the city of Elmira. Some of the tours also include a visit to Twain’s gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Tanglewood Nature Center and Museum
If you have younger children and are craving some easy outdoor activity, Tanglewood is a great place to spend a few hours. There are more than 10 miles of walking and nature trails that are perfect for short legs and little feet. The museum and live-animal exhibits will interest the older kids (and adults), too. (Most of the animals at Tanglewood were placed there after undergoing wildlife rehabilitation and being deemed “non-releasable”.) While the emphasis at Tanglewood is on preservation, imagination is also embraced, evidence being the darling little fairy garden. Tanglewood is just a pleasant hamlet in a serene setting. And who knows? If you’re lucky, you may even be able to get up close to an adorable hedgehog!
This is just a sample of things to do with kids in the Finger Lakes. My family and I will be spending a week in the region this summer, so I’ll definitely report back on any new, fun stuff we come across!
Vatican City and the Vatican Museums are must-sees for anyone visiting Rome. It should not matter if it’s your first visit to Rome or your tenth. Similarly, even for non-Catholics, the Vatican’s historical and spiritual elements are too significant to disregard.
Previous visits to The Vatican Museums
I made my third trip to Rome last fall as well as my third visit to Vatican City and the Museums. As I am Roman Catholic and very much interested in religious history, I can’t stay away! I made my first visit back in 2006 with my sister. She and I were traveling together around Italy on basically a backpacker’s budget. Therefore, we did not splurge on any guided tours. We opted to explore the Vatican Museums on our own, which meant standing in line for hours waiting to get in. It wasn’t so bad then but now, at my more advanced age, I look back and think, “Never again.” We took our time navigating the corridors and managed to see a fair amount of the exhibits. Aside from the Sistine Chapel, though, sometimes we really didn’t know what we were looking at.
At the top of St. Peter’s Basilica in 2006 (so long ago!)
That’s why, on my second visit five years later, I decided we would do a guided tour of the Museums. Plus, I was with different people, one of whom was my then 2-year-old daughter. There was no way we could have waited in long lines for tickets and for admission with a toddler. And then who knows how long she would have lasted if we had done it on our own. Typically, tour guides keep you on track, pointing out the most significant exhibits and artifacts. They also know shortcuts and workarounds. All key when traveling with young children.
From that second visit, one thing stuck with me; a negative, if you will. The Museums were exponentially more crowded than on my first visit. So, when planning my third and most recent visit, I was set on again doing a guided tour. Not to mention, I was with people who were visiting Italy, including Rome and Vatican City, for the very first time. I wanted to make sure their experience was as positive as possible.
The Octagonal Courtyard from my 2011 Vatican visit
In researching, I learned about LivItaly Tours. Their Early Entrance Vatican Tour caught my eye. Based on my previous experiences, I realized gaining access to the Museums before they opened to the public was the best idea ever.
How an early entrance Vatican tour works
After booking the tour with LivItaly, you will receive an email with instructions on where to meet your guide and other important details. (As of publishing date, the meeting place is Caffe Vaticano across the street from the Museums.) Another thing worth mentioning about this early entrance Vatican tour is that LivItaly guarantees a maximum of 6 people per group. This makes for a very personalized experience.
After locating our guide, Deborah, she led us into the queue for ticketed guests. While we waited for the doors to open, Deborah explained what we should expect over the next few hours. She had these laminated placards with images of significant exhibits within the Museums. Deborah went over the important points of each exhibit, including the Sistine Chapel, so we went in with some advance knowledge. It helped to know ahead of time what we were looking at and what it all meant. There are two advantages to this approach: 1) we could easily hear everything she said because we were in such a small group; and, 2) the time went by very quickly. Since we were occupied, it seemed we were waiting in that line for just a few minutes.
The typical visit to the Vatican Museums ends with the Sistine Chapel. It is what a good number of visitors want to see the most, and understandably so. But the route through the exhibits and corridors is designed so that visitors can’t just race ahead to the Sistine Chapel and then backtrack. That is unless you’re part of this early entrance Vatican tour. Since we entered the Museums one hour before they opened to the general public, we headed straight for the Sistine Chapel so we may marvel at and enjoy it without throngs of people. As it was my third time witnessing one of the greatest artistic achievements in history, I can say it was the most enjoyable. On my previous visits, we crammed into the chapel, elbow to elbow with hundreds of people. Some were shoving and jockeying for the best position and many had no regard for personal space. With the early entrance Vatican tour, there was plenty of space to gaze upward and take it all in without worrying about being jabbed in the ribs.
Stairs leading to exit of Vatican Museums
We had a set amount of time to spend in the Sistine Chapel. Once it expired, Deborah led us back through the Museums and to the main entrance so we could essentially start over from the beginning. Soon after, the doors opened to the public and in swept a flood of humanity.
Is the early entry Vatican tour with LivItaly worth it?
I answer this question with an emphatic YES. As I’ve stated, this was my third visit to the Vatican Museums and it was way more crowded than I’d previously seen. In some spots, like the Octagonal Courtyard, the crowds blocked the view of most of the sculptures. Luckily, Deborah knew the right places to convene and from where to observe so we could still get a glimpse despite the crowds.
Another advantage is that we had somewhat of a head start on the general public. In certain parts of the Museums, like Raphael’s Rooms, we were the only ones in there. We were able to hear Deborah’s explanations of the masterpieces surrounding us. The absence of large crowds allowed us to fully appreciate and immerse ourselves in the historic grandeur.
Raphael’s Room of Heliodorus: Expulsion of Heliodorus from the temple
I am thankful our time in the Vatican Museums ended when it did. The crowds were beginning to become unbearable. To complete the tour, Deborah led us to St. Peter’s Basilica. There, she pointed out the most significant sections and artworks, like Michelangelo’s Pietà. Shortly after, the tour officially came to an end, but not before Deborah gave us instructions on how to climb to the top of the dome (not included in this tour). We were able to take our time in the Basilica, soaking it all in, before enjoying the sunshine and architecture in St. Peter’s Square.
Lastly, this early entrance Vatican tour runs approximately 3.5 hours. We began at 7:30 am so that means we were finished by 11:00-11:30 am. This allowed us almost a full day afterward to explore more of Rome, which we fully took advantage of.
I certainly hope this wasn’t my last trip to Rome. If and when I do return, and again visit the Vatican Museums, I will not have to think twice about booking the early entrance Vatican tour with LivItaly!
My Early Entrance Vatican Tour with LivItaly was complimentary, and the rest of my traveling party’s was discounted. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, 100% my own. Read full disclosure here.
Two things come to mind when you think of Miami: beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. People come from all over the world to relax on the beaches in the day and then party all night. But if that doesn’t appeal to you, there are plenty of other things that you can do in Miami. If you’re a thrillseeker and you love adventure sports, Miami’s beaches are great places to go. There is a massive range of great adventure sports that you can do out on the water when you’re not soaking up the sun on the beach. These are some of the best watersports that you can do in Miami right now.
Relaxing on the beach is great, but if you fancy a change, why not hit the water and do a spot of fishing? There are so many different fish species out there in the ocean and Miami boat rent rates are very reasonable. You can hire a boat for the day and try your hand at catching tuna, sailfish, or kingfish, among others. It’s a very peaceful way to enjoy the incredible Miami coastline.
There’s a lot of amazing sea life around the coast of Miami and there’s no better way to see them than snorkeling. There are some great day trips to Key West, the island city about 150 miles from Miami. You’ll take a trip around the islands, get the chance to explore Key West for a while and then take a snorkeling trip around the world’s third largest coral reef. There are all sorts of tropical marine life to be found under there.
Most people that head to Florida for theme parks and water parks go straight for Orlando and hit Disney World, but Miami has some great water parks as well. Zoo Miami has a neat aquarium area and lots of fun water-based rides, as well as all of the normal animals that you’ll expect to find in a zoo. A lot of people choose this place over other zoos in the area because they have a strong focus on conservation, and the animals aren’t kept in cages, so it is seen as more humane.
Everglades National Park
If you love wildlife as well as the water, Everglades National Park is ideal for you. It’s famous for the large alligator population, but there are plenty of other amazing animals to find there as well. The best part is, you can take a tour of the national park by airboat. There’s no better way to explore the Everglades than by water.
If it’s thrills that you’re after, you should definitely try parasailing while you’re in Miami. You’ll be attached to the back of a speedboat or a jet ski and fly through the air as it speeds along. It’s not for the faint-hearted but if you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll love it. It’s also a great way to get a birds-eye view of the amazing Miami coastline.
Miami is a great destination for water sports; it’s not all about the beaches and the parties.
Working for yourself allows you a certain amount of freedom when it comes to traveling around. Not having to report to the office on a Monday morning means I can be somewhere else, even abroad, just so long as I have my laptop, my smartphone, and a clear head. The downside, if there is a downside to being by the pool somewhere warm and friendly, is that my work usually comes with me.
I’m not alone. A lot of people work while traveling these days. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it isn’t without its inherent problems. One of the biggest problems is accepting funds from clients while I’m traveling abroad. It’s problematic because sometimes I depend on those payments to get me through my break. There are solutions, but the complexities of international exchange and money transfer mean that if I’m not careful I can end up being badly burnt.
THE COST OF ACCEPTING FUNDS IN DIFFERENT CURRENCIES
The default solution is always PayPal. As if we didn’t know, the consumer resource Financial Wellness reminds us that PayPal is the largest and most widely used third-party payment resource on the planet. Its strength is that it is universally recognized and trusted, and most clients are likely already to have an account. Work at Home magazine recommends it for precisely that reason.
Unfortunately, PayPal’s universal popularity allows it to help itself to far too big a chunk of my hard-earned cash when converting it between currencies. In practice it means I lose 4% immediately upon accepting the funds and then another similar amount upon exchanging them to foreign currencies. In one fell swoop, the payment that I’ve sweated blood for is 8% lighter. That is a hefty proportion of my income. To make up for it, I either need to pass on that fee to the client, making me less competitive or else I absorb the loss myself. All that hard work for nothing. Luckily, as Finder points out, there are other payment providers out there. For instance, I am aware that Payoneer’s fees are lower than PayPal’s, but more on that in a bit.
WHY USING YOUR CREDIT CARD IS USUALLY NOT AT OPTION
What might seem the simplest means of drawing on payments into my account, by using my credit card, is not really an option unless I were to have another bank account at the place to which I am traveling. As this is seldom the case, I end up paying an unreasonably prohibitive foreign exchange fee, or loading charge, and having to deal with a punitive exchange rate to boot. That’s before I even contemplate the interest payment if I fail to pay off my balance in full within the allocated time. A very bad idea, worse even than using PayPal.
Cash withdrawals with a foreign credit card give you a particularly nasty surprise as, in addition to all else, you end up being stung with a withdrawal fee of about 2-3% per transaction. All of this is money I’ve earned whilst working away, disappearing before my eyes.
PAYONEER IS THE OPTIMAL SOLUTION FOR FREELANCERS
This is why I’ve begun to use Payoneer, a lesser-known but still safe and reliable alternative to PayPal and other third-party payment systems. Already operating in approximately 200 countries, Payoneer is used by some of the world’s biggest corporations such as Airbnb, Elance, and even Google.
Payoneer’s charges are more competitive than those of PayPal and are clearly set out so that they cannot easily be misunderstood. Essentially, incoming funds are transferred into my bank account for free, and conversions are priced at just two percent over the mid-market rate (which itself is usually generous). The company achieves this by localizing its global payment solutions in all the major countries and many others besides.
Surprisingly, Payoneer is already fourteen years old and has come a long way since its launch in New York in 2005. With four million customers around the world, 1,200 employees, seventeen global offices and thirty-five languages supported, Payoneer clearly has big ambitions. The favorable reviews for me clinch the deal.
As a freelancer, I receive payments from clients on an ad hoc basis, and can never be certain that I will be at home when they arrive at my bank. Call me old-fashioned but I live to keep as much of my earnings as possible rather than paying a cut to middle-men along the way. Thankfully any charges Payoneer makes are modest and are clearly explained, taking out a whole load of stress from the business of receiving funds abroad.
Many people don’t exactly relish the idea of doing a family road trip since kids and cars are pretty notorious for not really mixing together. However, whether you’re looking for a cheaper way to travel or a road trip is your only option, it doesn’t always have to be a crazy and stressful time. Below, we share with you some of our top tips for how to prepare for a family road trip so that it can be an enjoyable experience for all involved.
Get a safety check
When traveling by car, especially with children, safety should always come first. Therefore, it’s really important that before going out on the road you get a full safety check on your car to make sure everything is as it should be. If you’re in any way concerned about the safety of your car, then you should never leave it up to chance. There is another reason a safety check is important. Should you get into an accident and need to get support with your personal injury claim with Robinette Law, you’ll have a much better chance of a successful outcome if you can prove that your car had a safety check and given the all-clear before leaving for the road trip.
Have all your documents in place
You’d probably be surprised by how many people have set off on cross-country road trips only to realize halfway there that they forgot important documents. These documents include proof of insurance and even driver’s licenses! To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, it’s important to prepare your documents in advance and perhaps even keep them in a dedicated folder in your glove compartment just in case.
Give the car a good clean
There’s no doubt that taking a long road trip will result in some mess in the car, especially if you’re going with children. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to leave with the car already a mess. Eliminating clutter, messes, and bad smells before you leave is going to make the journey more relaxing. Moreover, make sure you bring plenty of trash bags to contain and dispose of rubbish along the way.
Bring plenty of snacks and drinks
Long car journeys are going to require stops along the way for food and drinks, but often it’s not possible to stop when people are hungry or thirsty. Even if you can stop, these places are often expensive and don’t stock the healthiest of foods. That’s why it’s better to bring your own snacks and drinks that can keep everyone going until you’re able to stop. This is especially helpful for children.
As we mentioned above, kids and cars typically don’t mix. Car journeys are long and can be boring for kids who have a lot of energy and prefer to be entertained quite often. A good way to prepare for this is to bring plenty of things like toys, coloring books, and anything else that will keep them entertained during your journey. You can also look at bringing along things like a portable DVD player or iPad with some of their favorite movies or shows. This will really help the time pass for them and make it far less stressful for the adults.
Prepare for lots of stops
From bathroom breaks to meals and everything else in between, you’re going to find yourself having to stop a lot on a road trip. This isn’t really a bad thing, although it may add to the length of your journey. Taking breaks to let your kids run around for a bit and eat something is a good way to help them burn some of their energy and hopefully allow them to sleep for a bit when they get back into the car. Another good reason for stopping is that it gives you a chance to stretch your legs and wake up a bit since driving for long periods can cause fatigue.
Yes, that’s right. My dad was “just” a cop. It was but one of several reasons I did not quite fit in at my high school. My prestigious, expensive, college prep high school that I will not name. (Though, if you really wanted to know the exact school, it would not be difficult to find out.) My dad, the Chicago cop, worked multiple side jobs in addition to his regular police tours in order to send me to that fancy high school. It was the last school I wanted to attend but I would have never won that battle.
It started in high school…
Even before the first day of school, I knew I would not fit in there. For starters, I’d attended a public Chicago elementary school instead of a parochial grade school. The neighborhood in which I’d grown up was seen as unsavory (in fact, while in high school, I was ridiculed on a few occasions by those who believed I lived “in the ghetto”.) I was a cop’s kid going to school alongside children of prominent doctors and high-powered politicians (including the daughter of Chicago’s then-mayor).
My dad, the Chicago cop, and I (1974)
Then there was the topic of my ethnicity. With a birth name like Francesca Maria Folinazzo, my heritage is fairly obvious. This caused me to experience a bit of culture shock at my high school, as I had grown up in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood. Almost everyone I knew, including my friends from elementary school, was Italian. Then I get to high school and I find myself in the minority, greatly outnumbered by classmates of Irish heritage.
The high school years are difficult no matter what. Then throw in these factors, which I felt were working against me, and the level of difficulty rises tenfold. I had no chance of fitting in with my classmates – or did I? There was one common denominator between “them” and me. Desperate to fit in, I decided it was worth exploring.
My Irish heritage
The reality is that I, too, have Irish heritage. That’s right. My paternal great-grandmother, Genevieve Kane, was born in Ireland and came to America in the early 1900s. She found herself in Chicago and that’s where she met and married my Italian great-grandfather. That results in the breakdown of my heritage to be 7/8 Italian and 1/8 Irish. Not much, but it’s something, right? Despite not knowing much about my great-grandmother or Irish traditions, my 1/8 Irish blood was enough to give me hope of identifying and connecting with some of my classmates.
My great-grandmother, Genevieve Kane
So, here we are, St. Patrick’s Day, 1988. My paternal grandmother, Genevieve Kane’s daughter, was pretty much my best friend. I called her Mimi. It seemed that St. Patrick’s Day was the only day of the year my Mimi felt comfortable celebrating her Irish heritage. On this St. Patrick’s Day, Mimi gave me a pin with a little leprechaun on it and the words “Proud to be Irish”. I wore it to school on St. Patrick’s Day, pinned to a green sweater, attempting to get into the spirit like almost everyone else. Things were going great until the second-to-last period of the day: World History class with Mr. Kelly. As the class bell rang and everyone was settling in, Mr. Kelly said to me, in front of the entire class, “What are you doing with that Irish pin on?”
“Well, I’m part Irish,” I replied.
Incredulous, Mr. Kelly responded, “Francesca Folinazzo? You’re going to tell me you’re Irish?”
I began to reply, “Yes, my grandmo-” but he cut me off by saying, “Take off that pin. There’s no way you’re Irish.”
Here I am, an already-insecure 14-year-old, trying and failing mightily to fit in, being belittled by a veteran educator in front of a room of my peers. I was mortified. Hanging my head in shame and embarrassment, I took off the pin. I sat like that, with my head hanging, for the duration of the class, wishing the floor would just open up and swallow me.
After that traumatizing experience, I renounced my Irish heritage. I refused to recognize it, instead, telling people who asked that I am “all Italian”. Mr. Kelly had humiliated me that much. For decades, I wanted nothing to do with anything Irish-related, and that included traveling to Ireland.
Acceptance and validation
Then last year, I was invited to Dublin, Ireland, to experience, share, and write about Temple Bar TradFest. It is Ireland’s largest festival of traditional music and beyond. It was a perfect opportunity for me because, aside from travel, another of my passions is music and I’d just launched my new blog, Roots Music Rambler. I could not pass it up.
With 33 million Americans claiming Irish ancestry, I am not surprised that the Dublin locals I met often asked if I had “any Irish blood”. I got into a taxi one night and it didn’t take long for the driver to realize I’m American. A few minutes later, he asked, “So, have you any Irish blood, love?” I said, yes, my great-grandmother came from County Cork, so I didn’t have that much. The driver, whose name I did not get, replied, “What do ye mean? That’s still Irish blood; it’s enough!” I wanted to cry. Here was a real Irish person, in Ireland, welcoming me to his home country and not only recognizing my tiny bit of Irish ancestry but also encouraging me to embrace it. I had similar experiences with other locals and their reactions were the same as that taxi driver’s: you are Irish, you are one of us. I can’t even describe how validating it was to hear that from these lovely people. They knew nothing of my life and my background, and it didn’t matter. We shared the same blood and it was enough for them. I can’t say the same for Mr. Kelly. I still harbor resentment towards him. Now, though, I’m more upset that I allowed that incident to cause me to renounce my Irish heritage and not want to travel to Ireland. I’ll make up for it, though. I’m planning to return to TradFest in Dublin in January 2020, and hopefully a separate trip with my dad so he can make some connections to his Irish roots.
Knowing what I know now about the warmth and genuineness of real Irish people, I should be the one telling the cantankerous Mr. Kelly, “There’s no way you’re Irish!”
I know there are plenty of people who are totally into renaissance and medieval fairs. I am not one of those people.
Well, to be fair about the fairs, I’d never attended one. And it wasn’t for any particular reason; a chance to do so just never arose. That was until last fall when I had the opportunity to travel to Dubois County, Indiana, for Rosenvolk German Medieval Festival. I was hooked by the German aspect (the kids do have some German blood) and then sold by the promise of mead.
Rosenvolk Festival history
Rosenvolk German Medieval Festival was borne of a mother’s desire to foster her child’s passion. Founder Catherine LeBlanc has a son who, as a youngster, developed quite a love of history and is particularly fond of medieval history. So, as any good mother would do, LeBlanc began traveling with her son to various medieval fairs. Perhaps due to her son’s academic interest in history, LeBlanc had the idea to take these fairs to a higher level. She wanted to place an emphasis on learning about medieval history and make it less about gnawing on turkey legs. So, she began to explore the possibility of starting her own medieval festival.
The search was on for the perfect spot to host this new type of festival. LeBlanc found it in Southern Indiana, at 18th Street Park in the town of Ferdinand. Leaving her native Canada, LeBlanc set off for Ferdinand with the mission of making Rosenvolk the premier medieval German cultural fair in the United States. Rosenvolk is an annual event, taking place each October. While LeBlanc prefers the fair to remain a weekend event, her intent is to eventually expand the festival grounds and establish a year-round medieval learning center.
As mentioned, the 3-day festival takes place every October (2019 dates are October 18, 19, and 20). Weather-wise, it is a lovely time of year in Southern Indiana. Think crisp air, pleasant temps, and colorful foliage. The festival itself definitely caters to families with activities and events for all age groups. Festival grounds are divided into three sections: Masquerade Area, Market Area, and Pirate Area. Each of the areas has its own schedule of events and performances. There is even more entertainment on the grounds’ periphery, including live jousting matches, a crowd favorite. Festival-goers will also enjoy falconry demonstrations, a traveling circus troupe, and even a Viking encampment.
Our family especially enjoyed the jousting matches. In all my years, I’d never witnessed anything quite like it. The jousters weren’t just “going through the motions”; they were seriously battling! It was quite exhilarating but at times I did worry whether someone would get seriously hurt (it’s the mom in me; I can’t help it). But I had to keep telling myself they’re professionals and this isn’t their first rodeo – or, joust. At the end of the matches, the children in the crowd were invited to go for a ride on the jousting horses (at an additional cost). My kids were thrilled!
Another highlight for us was the Ivanovich: Magic and the Impossible show. It is more than just a kids’ magic show; Mr. Ivanovich has a subtle sense of humor that the adults will appreciate. My daughter enjoyed spending time with the Fae of Norsey Woods, a whimsical faerie who oversees games and crafts for the wee ones. And I was pumped to finally try axe-throwing. Turns out I’m not very good but it’s a fun way to release some aggression.
Lucia on stage with Ivanovich
I mentioned mead earlier… I mean it when I say it was one of the main reasons I decided to attend Rosenvolk. For those not familiar with mead, it’s an ancient beverage made with fermented honey. It dates all the way back to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome and was also the preferred beverage of Vikings. Mead is making a comeback and I, for one, am a fan. In fact, I’ve sought it out when traveling to places like Lithuania and Ireland. So, traveling to Southern Indiana for mead was no big deal. And the mead on offer at Rosenvolk, from award-winning Black Dragon Meadery in Michigan, was worth the drive. I wish I could have had more but, you know, designated driver and all. I also wish I could have bought some bottles to take home but that wasn’t an option.
If you go….
Bring your appetite (for food and drink) and some spending money. In addition to mead, there is also beer available in the adults-only beverage garden. Plenty of shopping to be done, too, with vendors selling everything from Welsh cakes to custom-made cloaks.
Stay at Hampton Inn Hotel in nearby Jasper. The hotel is newly renovated and is immaculate. If you’re lucky, hotel staff member Andy will be working during your stay. He certainly went above and beyond for my family and me and made our stay that much more pleasant.
This area of Southern Indiana has a strong German heritage and one of the community’s mainstays is The Schnitzelbank Restaurant. It is right next door to the Hampton Inn and worth a visit. Stop into the old-school eatery for a hearty German meal and a stein of beer (or two).
My family and I were hosted by Visit DuBois County for our Rosenvolk experience and received complimentary admission to the festival. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, 100% my own.
If I’ve learned anything in my years of travel it’s that food tours are the way to go. Being a participant is an excellent way to get a feel (and taste) for a new city. On the other hand, it can help travelers see and learn something new about the places they’ve visited before.
When I made my 3rd trip to Rome last fall, I knew I wanted to do a food tour, as dining on my previous trips was very hit-or-miss. Plus, I was traveling with friends who were visiting Italy for the first time ever. I wanted their initial experiences in my favorite city in the world to be positive and delicious.
Eating Europe Food Tours
I really didn’t have to think too hard about which tour company to book. I’d known about Eating Europe for some time as I had been previously acquainted with its PR Manager. She was always so professional and personable that I knew her new company, Eating Europe, would be the same. Spoiler alert: I was right.
Decision made on tour company, next we needed to decide on which of Eating Europe’s Rome food tours we’d do. It wasn’t easy because all of the Rome food tours they offer look incredible. We arrived in Rome on a Saturday, so Sunday would be our first full day in the city. I decided that Eating Europe’s Rome Sunday Walking Food Tour would be perfect. It allowed me to be re-acclimated to the city I last visited 7.5 years prior and allowed my friends a tasty introduction to the food and history of Rome.
We met our guide Arturo on Sunday at 10:30 am at Piazza Benedetto Cairoli. There were approximately 10 of us in the whole group, which was very manageable. Arturo quickly introduced himself to all of us and away we went!
As it was still morning, our first food offering was maritozzo, a traditional Roman breakfast treat. The maritozzo essentially is a baked pastry resembling a small loaf of bread. It is split down the middle and filled with an insane amount of fresh whipped cream. That’s it. So simple but incredibly tasty! As we devoured our maritozzo, Arturo gave us the history behind the delicacy. It dates back to Ancient Roman times and has evolved over the centuries. The name maritozzo came about in the 1800s and derives from the Italian word for husband, marito. At that time, the tradition began of a young woman’s fiance giving her a maritozzo on the first Friday of March, and inside the pastry would be a small gift, sometimes a ring. I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about some sort of object behind hidden in my maritozzo!
Another aspect of food tours I love is the history lesson that accompanies just about every type of food we try. Take Roman pizza, for example. I was shocked to learn that until 1905, the only place to find pizza was Naples. The concept made its way up to Rome with soldiers who had spent time in Naples. They loved Neapolitan pizza so much that they brought pizza dough from Naples to Rome and asked local bakers to make pizza for them. The result was a bit different from the pizza they enjoyed in Naples, as Roman pizza is super thin and crispy. And then there is pizza bianca (white pizza), which generally is not found outside of Rome. It’s considered “white” because it contains no tomatoes. Pizza bianca is typically rectangular and brushed with olive oil as soon as it emerges from the pizza oven. It doesn’t sound like much but it is delicious!
This oldest Jewish community in all of Europe was first established via papal bull in 1555. The decree called for walls to be built to contain the Jewish people and it dictated what types of jobs they could hold. It was not a pleasant existence for Roman Jews and it remained that way until the unification of Italy. The walls came down in 1888, only to be built again during World War II.
Today, the Jewish Ghetto is no longer a walled quarter. Visitors instead will find some of Rome’s highest-priced properties alongside temple ruins dating back thousands of years. You will also come across delicacies not found anywhere else in Rome.
As part of the tour, Arturo did an outstanding job of explaining the history of the Jewish Ghetto as well as the ruins we walked past. As for the food, our first stop was Ba’Ghetto Milky. (There are two Ba’Ghetto locations in the Jewish Ghetto: one is kosher, the one we visited is not). We enjoyed concia di zucchini (zucchini marinated with mint and vinegar), carciofi giudia (Jewish-style fried artichoke), and a kosher Chardonnay by Vini Leuci. Next, it was on to Kosher Cakes for a sweet treat known as pizzarella. It is best described as a cookie made with matzo, eggs, sugar, raisins, cinnamon, and orange zest. The doughy concoction is then deep fried and rolled in honey. It was surprisingly light and incredibly delicious!
Concia di zucchini, carciofi giudia, pizzarella
Italian craft beer
Even though I speak Italian, it was at this point that the tour began speaking my language! I am a craft-beer snob enthusiast and always seek out local brews wherever I travel. Our Sunday Rome food tour took us to Open Baladin Roma in Campo dei Fiori. The brewpub is the product of the passion for creativity embodied by Teo Musso, a sort of pioneer in Italian craft beer. For the tour, we sampled the house brews and small bites from the food menu. The little taste left us wanting more from Open Baladin so we returned on our own later that night for dinner and more beer! Open Baladin Roma features 100 bottled beers from Italian brewers as well as 40 Italian beers on draft. It’s definitely worth a stop for every craft-beer lover visiting Rome.
And what would a Rome food tour be without gelato? Our final stop with Arturo and Eating Europe was Gelateria del Teatro. Admittedly, I was so full from the day spent eating and drinking, but I managed to find room for gelato! The gelato at Gelateria del Teatro is 100% natural, made with seasonal ingredients only. You will find traditional flavors like pistachio and stracciatella, as well as more creative combinations like white chocolate with basil. Whichever route you take with your gelato, it is bound to be delectable.
It was there outside Gelateria del Teatro that we said “arrivederci” to Arturo. Our entire group had such an enjoyable time! Eating Europe also offers food tours in Florence, Amsterdam, Prague, London, and Paris. If I find myself in one of these cities, I would not hesitate to join another Eating Europe tour!
My Rome food tour with Eating Europe was complimentary, and the rest of my traveling party’s was discounted. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, 100% my own. Read full disclosure here.
This post is written in partnership with Villa Finder.
The vacation rental concept has grown so much in popularity over the last few years. With so many sites choose from, finding the right vacation property for your family’s travels can be daunting. My family has our go-tos for our North American and European travels. But we’re starting to discuss travel to other parts of the world, including Asia. And when the planning starts to get serious, I know we will use Villa Finder for Asia’s top rental villas for families.
What is Villa Finder?
With more than 1,500 villas in its portfolio, Villa Finder is the #1 villa distribution network in Asia. It manages luxury villas in places like Bali, Phuket, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius. While such a number may seem overwhelming, Villa Finder prides itself on personal attention to help travelers choose the perfect villa in their desired location.
Here is how it works: travelers make an inquiry via the Villa Finder website. A Villa Finder Travel Consultant will then phone the client to better understand their travel needs. This can include preferred destination, traveling with or without children, and how many people are in the traveling party. The Travel Consultant then uses all of that information to locate the villa which best suits the client’s needs.
Satisfied with the Travel Consultant’s findings, the client then completes the booking. The booking details are then forwarded to the Villa Finder Concierge team. This team works diligently to solidify arrangements for the guests, from airport pick-up to scheduling in-villa massages. The Concierge team coordinates with local service providers on behalf of the guests to make planning as stress-free as possible. For any such services, guests pay the providers directly; Villa Finder does not charge for making the arrangements.
As if these personal touches aren’t favorable enough, Villa Finder also cares deeply about the environment and about giving back. As guests, we support Villa Finder in their commitment to the environment because, for every booking, Villa Finder plants a tree in Sumatra, Indonesia. That’s quite an incentive for my family and me. How about you?
Why is Villa Finder Asia’s top rental villas for families?
Villa Finder takes the personal touch even further by first inspecting each villa before adding it to the portfolio. The villas are also frequently re-inspected to ensure they are well-maintained. But most importantly, these inspections are conducted to ensure your family’s safety and comfort. For example, for families with young children who would like a villa with a swimming pool, the Travel Consultant will suggest villas with a safety fence around the pool. The Travel Consultant and Concierge team will also research and secure additional safety items for children, such as car seats, and fun extras like pool toys.
I’ve long sung the praises of vacation rentals for traveling families as they tend to offer more space and privacy than hotels. Villa Finder fits into this category with its expansive portfolio, providing myriad options for traveling parties of almost any size. This makes Villa Finder an excellent option for large families, family reunions, and multi-generational travel. Moreover, the Concierge team can personalize your family’s stay by arranging for things like special meal plans and a family barbecue party. Lastly, the value of a villa rental versus a hotel is comparable, especially when factoring in savings on food and beverages. With a private villa, families can shop for groceries and cook their own meals instead of dining out 2-3 times per day.
Which Villa Finder destination would I choose for my family?
I’m thinking a good place for my family to experience Asia for the first time is Ubud, Bali. I know a good number of people – bloggers and non-bloggers; with and without children – who have spent a great deal of time in Ubud. It seems like a very laid-back city with all of its yoga centers and organic cafes. The many temples in the area and lush landscapes would provide my family with plenty of cultural and outdoor opportunities. And, when it comes time to just chill, we would have our private villa outside of town with our very own swimming pool. Seems like quite the ideal setup, wouldn’t you agree?
This post contains affiliate links. Read full disclosure here.
I genuinely enjoy kayaking and canoeing but don’t have much opportunity to paddle while at home in Chicago. My paddling adventures typically happen while I’m traveling. That being said, I don’t normally research where to paddle in and around Chicago. So, I was rather elated to learn that there is a prime kayaking spot in my own proverbial backyard.
Photo: James Cardis / Aurora Area CVB
How it all started
A little backstory: Last summer, I posted a photo on Instagram of my canoeing experience in New York’s Finger Lakes. Fellow local blogger Julie of Open Wide The World saw the photo and was excited to learn I share her affinity for paddling. She invited me to join her and her husband, and a couple of others, for a kayaking day trip in Yorkville, Illinois. I was available so I jumped at the opportunity without looking into it any further.
Fast forward to the day of the paddle. Julie and her husband, Homer; my long-time pal, Traveling Ted; James of the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau; and I met for breakfast at Ginger & Soul in Yorkville. Soon we were joined by our guide, Jeff Brown of The Yak Shack. After introductions, Jeff began detailing our schedule for the day. Then he said something like, “First I need to make sure you guys can flip the kayak…”
It was like those parts in movies where the music comes to a screeching halt at the exact moment someone says something really bizarre. My hearing became all fuzzy. I felt a little dizzy.
“I’m sorry, did you say ‘flip’?”
Jeff assured me that, yes, he said flip. He further explained there was a solid chance we would unintentionally flip our kayaks during the paddle. So, for safety reasons, he needed to know that we would be able to safely and successfully exit our kayaks while in the water upside down.
It was at that moment I realized this paddling excursion was way more than I bargained for. It wasn’t going to be a leisurely paddle down a lazy river. Oh, no. This was a full-on whitewater kayaking course.
I began to wonder if it was too late for me to back out.
My turn to flip
From Ginger & Soul, we all walked down to Bicentennial Riverfront Park on the Fox River. That’s where Jeff outfitted us with all the necessary gear, taking great care to explain the reason for and function of each item. This was another instance when it hit me that this wasn’t going to be like any other kayaking trip I’d ever done. For starters, I needed a “skirt” (or a spray skirt or spray deck). It’s a waterproof cover, worn by the paddler, that slips over the kayak’s opening and prevents water from getting in. That was a first. Jeff also had us “try on” different kayaks to see which one was most comfortable for each of us. These kayaks were smaller and shorter than kayaks I’d used before. Now my nerves were really starting to get the best of me.
After trying on PFDs (personal flotation devices, or life jackets) and choosing paddles and helmets, we hauled our kayaks down to the put-in. Jeff explained that each of us was going to paddle out a bit from the bank and, with Jeff’s supervision and assistance, intentionally flip our kayaks to practice proper exit technique. Oh, it gets better: we had to do it twice!
Traveling Ted receiving instruction from Jeff | Photo: James Cardis / Aurora CVB
Of course, I was the last one to volunteer to intentionally flip myself upside down in a river while fastened to a kayak. My fellow paddlers all quickly and successfully completed the safety drill. I did not. Well, not quickly.
I mentioned that we had to flip twice; the first time was for Jeff to conduct a guided exit, the second we had to exit the kayak ourselves. Even knowing that Jeff was right there to help, I could not psych myself up to flip the kayak. I was shaking and breathing heavily. I tried taking deep breaths to calm down. All the while, Jeff was standing beside me, patiently and calmly encouraging me to take my time. He was so supportive and, after what seemed like an hour, I finally lunged sideways and was suspended upside down underwater. Within seconds, Jeff had wrapped his body around my kayak and flipped me back over. I was relieved to have my head back above water but it was short-lived, for I had to force myself underwater again to perform a “wet exit”.
A “wet” what now?
A wet exit can be defined as peeling oneself out of a kayak after it’s capsized to get above water. So, for this second drill, survival was in my hands and my hands only. No pressure.
Again, I needed to psych myself up to flip but it didn’t take nearly as long as the first time. The most amazing part about it is that once under the water, I did not panic one bit. I popped the skirt off the kayak just as Jeff had explained, pushed myself out of the boat, and made it to the surface without even thinking about it. My successful wet exit had everything to do with Jeff’s outstanding instruction and encouragement.
Marge Cline Whitewater Course on the Fox River is the only class-II rapids in Illinois. See, that’s the part I failed to acknowledge when I agreed to this kayaking trip. WHITEWATER. That means rapids. All of my previous kayaking and canoeing experience had been on FLATWATER. That means no rapids.
Even with Jeff’s masterful instruction of maneuvers and wet exits, I was not feeling incredibly confident to shoot the course on my own. So I “rafted up” with Julie, meaning we held on to each other’s kayaks as we rumbled down the rapids. Things were going well until we hit the end of the course. I’m still not entirely sure how or what happened but I didn’t peel out like I should have and ended up capsizing. Once again I had to call upon Jeff’s instruction and I successfully performed the impromptu wet exit. Jeff was nearby so he helped me tow my kayak back over to the bank. That’s when I confidently declared, “Whitewater not for me!”
By this time, Traveling Ted had called it, too, so he and I headed back up to Southbank. We drowned our sorrows in a few beers while Julie and Homer went up and down the course like pros.
Later on, our group reunited at Crusade Burger Bar for more well-deserved sustenance. This time, our reward came in the form of incredible burgers, inventive “adult” milkshakes, and quite an impressive beer list.
Not an adult milkshake but one of Crusade Burger Bar’s outrageous desserts!
All in all, it was an extremely fun day. I’m glad to have discovered such gems close to home and look forward to spending more time in the Aurora area. But the biggest takeaway of the day was and forever will be, whitewater not for me.
Big thank you to Aurora Area CVB for hosting our group for the day. The whitewater experience, including Jeff’s guidance, as well as meals and drinks were complimentary. All thoughts and opinions here are, as always 100% my own.